The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

The myth of eight hour sleep and why that's a good thing for bread bakers

bnom's picture

The myth of eight hour sleep and why that's a good thing for bread bakers

I have read a lot of posts on TFL where people talk about the losing sleep, or refusing to lose sleep, because of breadbaking.  Personally, I find that me, my breads, and my cat all seem to wake up at 4 a.m. and I've stopped fighting it. 

I read an interesting article recently titled The Myth of the Eight-Hour Sleep about scientific and historic evidence that an eight hour sleep pattern is unnatural.  Instead, the more natural pattern is to sleep in two distinct chunks -- typically a four hour chunk followed by 1 – 2 hours of wakefulness then another four hours of sleep. Historic references frequently refer to “first sleep” and “second sleep."  People used that period of wakefulness between sleeps to engage in a variety of activities (prayer, meditation, sex, visiting neighbors, etc) which may have helped regulate stress.  Apparently, this "bi-modal sleep pattern" started fading in the late 17th century (starting with upper classes who could afford candlight and expanding as street lights, gas lamps etc. became more ubiquitous) and by the 1920s it had disappeared from our social consciousness. 

The article came to mind when I got up at 4 a.m last Saturday to shape my sd boules.  I find it comforting to know that I'm not some crazy obsessive but simply in sync with the natural rythms of body, bread (and cat).

Anyway, I recommend the article and would be interested in hearing the thoughts/experiences of others.


G-man's picture

I read this article too! Or if not this article, one like it (I can't actually get to the article from your link, I guess it's broken?).

I wake up twice every night. Sometimes my wife wakes up with me, sometimes she wakes up a little bit after or before. A lot of the time we'll lay in bed and talk until we fall back asleep. It generally doesn't take long. In any event, it's absolutely normal for me to wake up around midnight and again around 4am, stay up for 15-30 minutes, and then go back to sleep because I know I have to get up in the morning. If I didn't have to get up first thing in the morning, I'd probably just stay awake for a couple hours then go back to sleep.

I'm sure there's something I can do about this....... 

gary.turner's picture

The article played up Paris being the first city to have street lights. Funny, but Cordoba and other major cities of Andalusia  had public lighting for the squares and parks, and had paved and lighted streets in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. A few years ahead of Paris, no? The Jewish quarter was especially well lit due to their prosperity under the Caliphate.

The BBC's journalistic reputation/integrity has really suffered a downward slide over the last 15 or 20 years.



FoodFascist's picture

yes I read that article too. Funny enough, I used to sleep solidly for 7-10 hours before I had a baby. I've always been a sleepyhead, I can't function on less than 7 hours sleep for more than 2 days in a row. I just crash. I have honestly tried "training" myself to sleep less but I can't. When my son was tiny, I used to cat-nap all the time and it worked fine as long as I was getting near the magic 7-8 hours in total. And then.. I settled into this really weird pattern of, irresistibly falling asleep when I put him to bed, then waking up sometime between 1 and 4 am, getting up for 2-3 hours, then back to bed till 8 am. At least this way I was getting things done.

Last winter though was a complete disaster, I couln'd wake up at night for anything in the world. I'd set the alarm for 4 times a night, one soon after my son would fall asleep (so I could get up without disturbing him), two more for the 1-4 am window, and one for 6-7 am in the hope that I could just get up earlier. To no avail. I'd sleep through all of the alarms. I was getting nothing done. That made me a really unhappy bunny indeed. Luckily it got better as the days began to grow longer again. I'm now back to my nocturnal wandering. There must be some sort of a connection between daylight and my sleeping patterns. Hope I'll find a solution before next winter...

It's all good and well to follow your natural sleep patterns if you have the time. Unfortunately for people who work and have a busy lifestyle this is not an option. That's why night waking is so stressful for most people. I'm lucky enough to not have to work right now but when my kids are at school and I go back to work I'll have to change my sleep pattern again.

FoodFascist's picture

BTW my husband can't do split sleep at all. He can't nap either. If he didn't get enough sleep and then tried to nap during the day, he wakes up even more tired than he was to start with.

bnom's picture

Mine is completely bought into the notion of 7 -8 hrs solid sleep.  Good thing my cat is willing to keep me company at 4a.m. 


Stuart Borken's picture
Stuart Borken

I awakened and then awakened her and it was strongly suggested that I DUST or write letters, to anyone!  And, if I ever awaken her name will make the obit's.

Now, more to the subject of this segment.  Bread baking is very time demanding and restricting.  I don't know where I'll be in 18 hours when the second fermentation is supposed to be done.  Maybe my yeast is unusually lively and will have appropriately risen the dough sooner than expected.  Happens to me all the time.

This should be my greatest problem.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

between short.  Now after reading that article, I don't get stressed out when I wake up in the middle of the night.  Knowing it is just a pattern, I will soon be back in bed sleeping on.  And yes, it is now a more restful second phase.  Thank you dear!

Mini Oven

bnom's picture

I am glad to hear that Mini -- it is nice not to stress about those waking times.  We should develop a formula specifically designed to take advantage of people's natural sleep patterns.  And just to reinforce the connection, we'll use terms like "sleep" instead of "retard", and "stretch and turn," instead of "stretch and fold."  Hell - if people can get rich on artisan bread in 5 minutes a day, we should be able to make a killing with "bake your way to better sleep," or some such thing. :)

davidg618's picture

My Navy career spanned twenty-six years. About half of that time was spent in assignments that specifically dictated resting in short bursts--2 hours was the norm, 4 hours a gift from the gods. Even on some shore duty assignments rarely a week passed without one or two midnight emergencies (real or imagined). Only my time spent in schools approached general society's norm. After retiring, out of uniform I continued for fifteen more years to spend approximately 4 months at sea each year, watch-standing 12 on, 12 off, minus, of course, emergencies. "Emergencies" happened every day.

I retired, a second time, in 1995. During the subsequent 17 years I've learned to sleep when I can, and be semi-productive the rest of the time. Bread-baking fits right into my lifetime pattern.

David G


JustinB's picture

I always go to work at 4am, take a 3-4 hour nap when I get home, wake back up and do some stuff then another 4-5 hours! Rinse and repeat

pjkobulnicky's picture

Unless you are a bakery, you should not be having these sleep-bake angst issues. Just figure our which rise can be done and completed in the fridge and time it so that this happens in the night. Then, sleep issues are sleep issues and baking issues are baking issues.  I can only bake on weekends so I refresh my starter on Thursday and Friday with the Friday AM refresh the one that goes into the dough. Then on Friday after work I put the bulk dough together. It usually works out to be a few minutes here, a turn there ... and a nearly full rise before the first proof goes into the fridge. Sat AM is shaping, final proof and baking. But all of this is a scheduled routine. I am not nearly as successful when I try to wing it and when I do, it always results in competition with other things for time.